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Voorhees, James
Manuscript Address to the Members of the Washington Benevolent Society, no date circa 1810

folio, two pages, old folds, some dust soiling and tanning, else in very good, legible condition.

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“Gent of the Washington Benevolent Society, permit me to call your serious attention to a few observations … I presume you are all acquainted with the principles of this Society … Our great object is to support and promote Charity, Morality, Benevolence and an Union of sentiment; but more especially to preserve inviolate the true principles of our Federal Republican Government. Some of our members have asserted and tried by the dint of argument to make it appear that we are not a political body, and that politicks ought not to enter our sacred walls or have any influence on our political principles. I am sorry to say gentlemen that these are the sentiments of our former President, which has greatly injured the reputation and honour of our society – his openly avowing this to be his candid conception of our Institution, at one of the stated meetings will always be remembered with the deepest regret. What person who understands common language can or will pretend to deny that we are not a political society; does not the principle object of our Institution declare that we must preserve inviolate the true principles of our Federal Republican government - … does not this prove that our very existence depends on our politicks. I say every person before he can be admitted a member of this society must give ample proof to our executive committee of the purity of his Federal Republican principles. ….

Gentlemen our country now loudly calls for the immediate and united efforts of this society to exert her utmost endeavours, consistent with our constitution, to save her from that inevitable ruin to which she is now verging. Three days from this time will determine the destiny of our country; and if our opponents should succeed, we may bid our happiness, our liberty and Independence adieu; we will then be no longer permitted to assemble within these walls … no more will we dare to express our sentiments with freedom on the situation of our country, but we will basely have to submit to the friends and admirers of that Invincible and bloodthirsty Corsican Tyrant, whose very breath spreads death and carnage. Ye patriots of seventy six who fought the battles of your country and obtained a glorious Liberty and Independence let me earnestly entreat you to come forward and assert your rights, go to the polls and deposit the pledge of your freedom – And you their offspring; I charge you solemnly to be upon your guard; for there are many snares laid to entrap you, but arise be awake to their wiles and deceit. Remember that you are the sons of freemen and members of the Washington Society – that liberty and equality is your creed that you were bred up in this way when young and that you will not now depart from it… James Voorhees”


The Washington Benevolent Societies were grass-roots political clubs set up 1808-1816 by the Federalist Party in the U.S. to electioneer for votes. As shown on the membership certificates printed within copies of "Washington's Farewell Address" that were issued to members, the first of these societies was "instituted in the City of New York, on the 12th day of July, 1808." The President of that first Society was Isaac Sebring, and Secretary was G. C. Verplanck (perhaps Guilan Crommelin Verplanck, Sr.).  Societies were also formed in Rhode Island in 1810, as the threat of warfare loomed. Citing a July 6, 1812 edition of the "Federalist" newspaper in New Jersey, it has been reported that: "Coinciding with the first state peace convention, the initial public appearance of the Washington Benevolent Society in New Jersey occurred in Trenton on July 4, 1812."

The Washington Benevolent Society helped pioneer electioneering techniques in a democracy. "The promise of participation in the parade and receipt of the badge of the Society had been used as part of the Trenton Society's membership drive, for the Federalists were interested in gaining as many members as possible."[6] Ribbon badges with George Washington's portrait and the words "Pro Patria" ("For Country") printed on silk or vellum were issued to members of the Societies. "Silk ribbons bearing Washington's portrait issued by the society are among the earliest mass-produced partisan objects in American political history."

Into the Age of Jackson, an oration on Washington's birthday, February 22, was commonly delivered before the Washington Benevolent Societies in various states, and sometimes it would be printed.